Housing advocates praise passage of the Rental Licensing Accountability Act
MARYLAND- Housing advocates say a change in the state legal proceedings for evictions can be a way to increase landlord accountability and enforce compliance with local rental licenses.
HB36/SB100 provides, with some exceptions, that in any locality that requires a landlord to have a license, the landlord cannot file a summary eviction case unless they are licensed.
Maryland Legal Aid tells 47ABC the measure looks to end the practice of landlords renting substandard housing to tenants, while still having full rights to evict them.
“The burden isn’t going to be on the renter to prove that the person suing them is an unlawful actor,” said Maryland Legal Aid Assistant Director of Advocacy Zafar Shah adding “currently this puts tenants in the position to have to raise that issue themselves to say ‘why should I be evicted, why should I have to pay rent if the property is not up to code, hasn’t passed inspection.'”
He believes the measure can help bring landlords into compliance, by removing their ability to take tenants to court to evict, then turn around and rent the same substandard housing to newer rentees while still being non-compliant with licensing.
“They only sue a tenant to evict them to get something, something of value, but if they are coming to court with dirty hands, they haven’t followed inspection, or with proper licenses, this bill says hold it right there the courts are not going to help you break the law,” Shah said.
Jamie Miliman of Maryland Legal Aid says it would also end the practice of landlords using getting around Failed to Pay Rent eviction process, one that does require a license to move forward, and instead using an alternative action without that requirement.
“They do not need to have a license to evict on a Tenant Holding Over Lease or Breach of Lease Statuate, so what they would do is say you did not pay your rent I am taking you to court, then the license issue comes up and the case is dismissed, the landlord then turn around and send a notice ending your lease, now you have to leave, and they would bring in another tenant and the cycle repeats itself,” she said.
She says it’s a process that can leave serious health risks unaddressed.
“We have seen bed bugs, frozen pipes, lack of smoke detectors or serious electrical issues, people are living day to day in a situation where their lives are at risk because these places do not pass inspection and are unlicensed,” Miliman said.
Their group isn’t alone in their push for the legislation.
In a statement to 47ABC Attorney for Public Justice Center Matthew Hill said:
“We’ve seen numerous illegal landlords rent out their properties and then evict their tenants when the tenants complain about major conditions of disrepair. This bill addresses those predatory operators by making clear that illegally operating landlords should not be able to use special eviction processes funded by the state if they are operating illegally in their local jurisdiction. The bill is only effective in localities that have a rental property licensing law. We urge the General Assembly to give final approval and for the Governor to sign the legislation.”
American Housing Survey on Maryland rental quality found that the state had 47,000 moderately inadequate units, and 19,000 severely inadequate units, but only around 1,000 successful rent escrow cases where payments for repairs were secured.